Autumn Leaves

Autumn is upon us, the school year is starting, and my thoughts are turning to how I can best inspire my students and clients in new ways. I had initially thought that my fall blog would review something fresh and innovative in the world of music—maybe new music, an emerging and inspiring artist, a dynamic colleague’s work, even novel curriculum. But recently, a cherished colleague shared with me a remarkable poem—a kind of inspirational reminder about broader perspectives in our profession. It struck a chord with me and I thought others might be inspired as well by the uplifting message of American poet, Naomi Shihab Nye.

Kindness is in short supply these days. Just drive the freeway, listen to the news, or visit the blogosphere. The thing about kindness is that like a cashmere sweater, it goes with everything. When we find ourselves in passionate opposition, poor communication, or wildly differing perspectives, kindness can lay the groundwork for understanding. At the very least it allows us to “first do no harm.”

Autumn is upon us. Let’s consider kindness.


Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.


Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.


Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.


Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters

and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

it is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye – From Words Under the Words, Selected Poems (Far Corner Books, Portland, Oregon, 1994)